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Road Rage: Why do some people seem to have it out for runners and cyclists?

As I get closer to race day for an Ironman, one of the more arduous tasks that I have to accomplish is finding time to do the long runs and bikes. Although the weekend is seemingly the ideal timeframe, I don’t like to do my long workouts back to back, and considering the bike takes the most amount of time, I have resorted to doing my long run in the middle of the work week. In order to make it to work by 7, my only solution has been to get up very early… so as yesterday was a long run day with a goal of 2 hours, I was up at 3:45 and out the door shortly after 4:00 am. The way I see it, this is a far better time to run than after 7:00 pm. I’m not exhausted, there’s always less traffic, and I am not taking away from any family time since everyone is still asleep in the Feddock household.

My run started off yesterday no different from any other long run day. I have a specific run loop I prefer to run, so you can probably set your watch on me on Thursday mornings because I run the same route at the same time each week. When I pass by St. Joe’s hospital, I can similarly count on some of the regulars to be out on the curb smoking… they have started waving to me and saying “good morning” now. One thing that was definitely not my usual routine though, was the jerk in the black Dodge Charger driving towards UK on Waller avenue who felt compelled to swerve at me and drive with their car spanning the entire bike lane and shoulder so that I had nowhere to go but off the pavement just to be avoided. And for the record, I was clothed and had plenty of white and reflective gear to make me noticeable. No honking, No yelling, or anything. Just the asinine and aggressive driving tactics to exert their dominance at 4:30 in the morning.

In my more than 2 decade experience of running regularly on the roads, I have had my share of automobile versus me accidents, or more aptly, near-misses. I have ended up on the windshield of 2 cars, underneath 1 truck, I’ve come screaching in my tracks so many times I quit counting, I’ve had cans, bottles, trash, whatever thrown at me (this happened a lot more in West Virginia than in Kentucky interestingly enough), and then there never seems to be an end to the “nice shorts [insert derogatory expletive here]” comments that really seem to center around the college campus. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I am running or cycling, most all of the above still happens. I would say most of the more dangerous incidents will happen as the result of a driver simply not seeing you, and that doesn’t seem to change whether you are running or cycling. I know I have been guilty of not seeing a pedestrian a few times [I’ve never hit anyone], though I consider myself to be very sympathetic and always looking due to my own previous experiences. But then there are those flagrant and intentional situations where for whatever reason, some drivers just seem to have it out for runners and cyclists. That was clearly this morning, I’m running down a well lit section of road, with 3 traffic lanes and labeled bike lanes on both side of the road, and you could tell by the driver’s manner including the turning-on-of-the-high-beams – that person was just being a jackass. A very common topic of discussion on social media lately has been road rage incidents that have lead to significant injury. Slowtwitch.com has posted many articles of cyclists getting run off the road where significant and often life-threatening injuries are sustained. As many cities in the US and worldwide move towards being more “bike-friendly” by adding bike lanes, bike paths, etc., it seems that the general opinion of some members of the public borderlines on hatred towards cyclists and/or runners.

One of Lexington's many bike lanes

One of Lexington’s many bike lanes

There are many opinions as to why some people are angry at those of us who utilize our rights to be on the roads, but I don’t think this easily explained by the occasional bad behavior by a cyclist. There are some cyclists who ride erratically and seem oblivious to the concept of traffic rules. As a fellow cyclist, this stuff infuriates me when I see it, because I know it reflects poorly on cyclists as a whole. The big picture though is that these types of bad behavior represent such a small minority, yet many in the general public still extrapolate the few bad apples to represent the entire cycling community. When you consider that nearly 80% of adult drivers admit to not obeying traffic laws on a regular basis – speeding, running a red light, not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign – the amount of adults driving in an egregious manner is not that different and probably more then the number of cyclists that do not obey normal traffic rules. And, the average person on a bike is arguably no more likely to break the law on a bike than a peer in a car.

A sociologist at Westminster University in the United Kingdom named Rachel Aldrid, conducted a series of studies in an attempt to better understand behavior towards cyclists, and came down with a few conclusions:
1. Many drivers view cycling/commuting/running as frivolous, and interfering with the serious, adult business of driving.
2. Drivers seem to have a particularly sense of aggression towards males that is significantly more than females.
Aldrid conducted a study where a male volunteer who was 6 feet tall commuted around London regularly on a bike outfitted with cameras and an electronic distance gauge. He would ride as normal and then wear a wig & dress like a female. Drivers were observed for speed and distance with which they would pass him on his bike. There was a significant prejudice favoring the “female” cyclist when driver’s frequently slowed and gave additional distance when passing. When the same cyclist was dressed as a male, drivers rarely slowed down and would give very little room when passing.
3. Among individual cyclist’s perceptions, females tend to feel more at risk than males during interactions with drivers. Their conclusion was that given the slightly slower average speed of a female compared to a male, that this enables a different component of reaction time. [I was kind of confused on that one.]
4. Males are more likely to reciprocate aggression back at drivers [I’m guilty of this one myself, though not nearly to the degree of when I was in my early 20s.]
5. The average cyclists who rides at least 3 miles per day experiences at least 1 “very scary” incident per week, defined as an incident where you risked “significant bodily harm/injury.”

Just this morning as I was driving my kids to school, I witnessed a car versus cyclist accident. A woman making a right turn off of the main road pulled directly in front of a cyclist who was in the bike lane and he slammed right into the passenger side door. I was 2 cars back from the traffic light on the road to which she was turning, and I actually saw the entire incident progress. She passed the cyclist as she approached the intersection, and initiated her turn right at the point where her rear bumper was at the distance event to his front wheel. I assume she thought she could make the turn before he got there. She obviously could not. The most impressive thing about the entire event though (besides the fact that he seemed ok), was that she was the one who was acting like an ass even after the fact. Most all of the nearby cars stopped, and ran out to help the man who was laying on the ground. She stayed in her car, only getting out after about 5 people had gotten the cyclist to his feet and off the road. She said she never saw him, and insinuated that it was the cyclist’s fault and not hers. She didn’t go over and say sorry or check that he was ok. Once everyone was clearly helping the guy and he verbally stated he was fine, she got back in her car and drove off. It was totally her fault. [FYI – I do think the cyclist was ok, just a couple of scrapes and aggravated, he just wasn’t saying anything. And then for the record, the dude had on a full sleeve neon jacket, helmet with neon strips, a blinking tail light… easily visible.]

This accident and the demeanor of the woman who hit the cyclist this morning, just reinforces some of the polarity of the general community. I was pleased that before I could even get over to the cyclist this morning, another woman had already sprinted to his aid and in the process was yelling at the driver remarking how she was at fault and she could have killed someone driving in such an ignorant manner. That woman, by the way, was walking her son to school as he was riding a bike, so she obviously feels sympathetic for bicycle safety. But at the other end of the spectrum, many drivers seem to act as if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing on the roads when you are running or riding a bike – almost as if we’re playing in the road like a child, and that aggravates the heck out of them.

Countries that have openly adopted a commuter system in favor of cyclists and pedestrians such as Denmark and Norway have seen tremendous benefits by way of reduced health care costs attributable to more healthy citizens, reduced pollution, reduced congestion on the roadways, etc. In addition, many such countries have shown significant reductions in pedestrian-motor vehicle fatalities and injuries despite the rising number of people on the roads who are not in cars.

A bike bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A bike bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark.

There has been a big movement to make the roads safer in the US with the addition of colored and designated bike lanes. Interestingly enough, there has only been a relatively small change in such fatalities in the US over the past 10 years. In 2013, there were 4,735 pedestrian fatalities in the US compared to 4,763 in 2000, this number didn’t really change in 2014 either. Acknowledging that in my own opinion, the appalachian region seems to evoke a sense of contempt in general towards cyclists and pedestrians, there were only 30 pedestrian fatalities in Kentucky in 2014 – thankfully, our state does not really stand out for that statistic. The worst states are California, Texas, New York, and Florida, but I suspect that has a lot more to do with population density than bad drivers and careless pedestrians.

My take home from all of this is that I don’t trust any drivers by assuming who is going to give me the right of way and who is not, and who sees me. I generally ride on the side walks or bike lanes, running in the same locations, and I try to avoid with all get out the busy roads that are not bike friendly, and I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I’m ready to get off the road if I don’t feel like I see the white of your eyes looking at me, and I try to follow traffic laws. The other unfortunate statistic for pedestrian-motor vehicle fatalities has to do with when the majority of accidents occur – between 6pm and 6am, which is when I am out doing most of my training.

Not surprising, the majority of pedestrian fatalities and injuries occur at nighttime.

Not surprising, the majority of pedestrian fatalities and injuries occur at nighttime.

The Lexington community itself has experienced its own heartache within the past year with a few very devastating careless cycling and running fatalities. In addition, it seems at every Ironman competition, there is at least one unfortunate person whom the race director is holding a moment of silence because they were involved in a fatal accident leading up the race about to begin. I think about this everytime I head out the door. I have lights, vests, reflective gear (I admit I don’t often wear enough), but my only request is that if I’m being courteous enough to stay in the state’s allotted space to ride and train, please respect that space if your in a car. Cyclists and runners have just as much a right to the roads as automobiles do – but at the same time we must abide by the traffic rules that are meant to keep us safe as well. And then, what is it exactly that I’m doing that causes you to want to run me off the road – especially at 4:30 in the morning?

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